Friday, May 09, 2008

Who Does The PTC Hate This Week – May 9, 2008

Wow! If I had known that I wasn't going to be posting for this long I'd have put up the Campbell's Soup Can (the universal sign of a blogger who was going to be away for a while). But of course I didn't know this was going to happen. Basically I just couldn't summon up the fire and desire to write anything. I was feeling Blogger's Block which combined with the time of the year – nearly the end of the regular season, no new "spackle shows" available courtesy of the strike, and the summer reality blitz not yet ready to roll. In short hardly anything to write about (or at least nothing that I really have been enthusiastic enough to write about) except the PTC, and to be honest I haven't been feeling that hot about writing about them. But they just keep getting outraged, and as we'll see when we get to the "Misrated" part of this post, it's sometime over the most absurd things.

Before we begin dissecting the outrage of the PTC at this week's supposed despicable acts carried out by the networks against the parents of America – which of course means the PTC itself since they have determined that they know what TV shows everyone in the United States, regardless of age, should be permitted watch hence their near constant outrage – let us spend a moment to snicker in their general direction. Why are we snickering at the PTC? Well, you might remember the PTC's outrage at the decision by CBS to repurpose the Showtime series Dexter to broadcast TV as a result of the Writers Strike. Apparently, regardless of the time slot the show was seen in, this action would expose America's children (or maybe the child-like American population regardless of age) to a show where a serial killer was the "hero." That was what they objected to but they were rallying the troops even before the show aired (and aired with considerable editing to eliminate things such as nudity and obscene language) to protest to the FCC over such a worthless program that would turn America's children (or America's child-like adult population) into seething serial killers, and they deployed a mass of "experts" ranging from an actual expert – quoted somewhat out of context – to a retired army officer who has created his own field of study ("killology") to prove that the show was going to turn America's children into slavering monsters. On April 2nd, the University of Georgia announced that Dexter had won a George Foster Peabody Award, which "recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by TV and radio stations, networks, producing organizations, individuals and the World Wide Web." Not a word commenting on the award has come from the PTC. They are still trumpeting the commitment by NBC to the Family Hour – even while they're complaining about an NBC series airing in the Family Hour (but more on that later). All together now – >snicker snicker snicker<.

Given that it is shareholders meeting season it should come as no surprise that the PTC is making the effort to reach out to advertisers to request/demand that the advertisers adhere to the PTC's vision of good advertising conduct by not putting their commercials into show that the PTC hates. But what about the commercials themselves? Recently a PTC representative appeared at the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals shareholders meeting to complain about the company's ad for a certain little blue pill (Viagra). PTC Director of Corporate Relations Glen Erickson expressed the organization's views: "I'm sure you'll agree that parents need to monitor and control what their children are watching but your commercial advertising offers no indication as to where these spots will suddenly appear. Moreover, because of the sheer volume of advertising weight that Pfizer supports this particular brand with, it is virtually impossible for a parent to identify what shows will have kid safe commercials. Recently, your ads have appeared in NCAA basketball, ABC's World News and during shows on family-targeted networks such as TV Land and Discovery Channel. We understand that you are targeting men with your message but please appreciate that children are watching these programs as well. We receive e-mails, letters and phone calls on nearly a daily basis asking the PTC to address their concerns with you. Parents are feeling powerless and find themselves addressing personal parenting issues at a time and place that seem to be dictated by these ED ads. Your spots when viewed by children are at least confusing, if not upsetting and embarrassing, to all family members trying to watch TV together."

One thing that I noticed about this statement is just how different it is from the usual plea that comes from the PTC which usually takes the form of the PTC begging the company to abstain from advertising on those harmful programs and to tread the paths of righteousness – with the help and advice of the PTC of course. This statement isn't like that. It's almost deferential to the company. And apparently it worked because Pfizer officials agreed to meet with representatives of the PTC this month.

The problem of course is that "all" the PTC wants Pfizer to do is to stop advertising to its key markets. Think of it for a minute; who buys Viagra? Answer: men, and in particular older men (also adult film actors, but the PTC hates anyone and anything even tangentially linked to porn – for example any woman who ever stripped off for Playboy). The peak market for sports is men, and there is a major component of TV news viewership tends to be male, and – as poster on the Internet keep pointing out – older. How many pre-teens or teens watch Katie Couric. I can't comment on advertising on TVLand and The Discovery Channel, because we get different versions of those channels here in Canada (and Shaw Cable doesn't carry the Canadian version of TVLand anyway) but I can't help but note that the PTC has chosen not to mention when the "offensive" ads on those channels aired. Does this mean that I support Pfizer over the PTC? Well I wouldn't necessarily go that far – I find the ads for Viagra, and competitor Cialis, to generally be tastefully done – but I can see that they might lead to potentially embarrassing questions. And maybe that's what the PTC objects to most, embarrassing questions from curious kids.

Another "snicker" moment coming up for the PTC. You may recall that the Council embraced Ben Silverman's announcement about keeping the first hour of prime time more "family friendly" as a victory for the illusory "Family Hour" (illusory because it simply doesn't exist). You will also remember the feeling of surprise that they actually bought into it expressed not just be me but by others including Tom Jicha of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel who wrote that, "NBC Entertainment President Ben Silverman isn't a snake-oil salesman. He's someone a snake-oil salesman would be wary of. Silverman, as is his job, is trying to get any positive publicity he can for his struggling network." He specifically pointed at My Name Is Earl and 30 Rock as examples of shows that the PTC would find and has found not very "family friendly." Sure enough, less than two weeks after the press release praising Silverman and NBC, the PTC has released a new press release, condemning NBC for "its abrupt about-face, as evidenced by a number of recent graphic scenes during Family Hour broadcasts." The specific content they objected to came from My Name Is Earl and 30 Rock; in the case of the content from My Name Is Earl it came from an episode that aired the day before the initial press release. In the case of 30 Rock it was the April 10th episode which featured mentions (and probably some footage – I don't watch the show) from a fictional reality series called MILF Island. Here's what the PTC press release states, "According to PTC research, the episode of "30 Rock" showed mothers on "MILF" Island competing for the attention of 8th grade boys. (The term "MILF" is an acronym for 'Mothers I'd Like to F***.') When the mothers are eliminated from the competition, they must remove their bikini tops and throw them in a fire. The young boys are shown watching the women dance provocatively." Presumably PTC research means that someone from the organization turned on the TV and watched the episode, which also featured Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon roundly condemning the fictional show. In a letter to Silverman Tim Winter, president of the PTC wrote: "We were the first to praise NBC for returning to the Family Hour, but we must now be the first to condemn their apparent abandonment of the previous week's so-called commitment. We repeat our request to NBC: please make the Family Hour truly family-friendly. Responsible television programming is good business. NBC could easily return to its roots with successful shows that appeal to the whole family, such as The Cosby Show. Committing to families must be more than empty talk. We expect NBC to make good on its pledge to keep the Family Hour intact and fill it with programming that even children can watch."

In his letter to Silverman, Winter also wrote the following: "I understand that 'family' is a broad category and it includes families with small children, families with older children, and even families without children. But all too often material is called 'Family Programming' when in fact it is nothing of the sort. Ugly Betty comes to mind. The PTC has also recorded scenes from that program which implied oral sex, reference to genital size, pornography, strippers, anal sex, threesomes, kinky and fetishistic behavior, statutory rape, S&M and partial nudity. Foul language in Ugly Betty frequently includes words like 'suck', 'bitch', 'ass,' 'screw' and 'damn'. This is hardly 'family' quality material." I mention this because one of the executive producers of Ugly Betty was none other than Ben Silverman, before he became head of entertainment programming at NBC. Knowing the shows that were already airing in the "Family Hour" (that doesn't exist) and the track record as a producer of the man who made the supposed pledge to promote family friendly programming, what exactly did they really expect would happen? Was Silverman supposed to pull already produced episodes of two shows Рone of which aired before he made "the announcement" because he made this pledge? For that matter why did the PTC believe that the man who was the Executive Producer of Ugly Betty Рa show that the PTC loathes as much as it loathes My Name Is Earl Рwould share the same concept of what "Family Friendly" means that they do? For that at the very least we can surely muster a bit of a snicker at the naivet̩ of the PTC.

Remember when I said that the PTC gets outraged at the most absurd things as shown in the "Misrated" section of this post? Well, see what you think of this: they are objecting to the TV-PG rating for the April 7th episode of Dancing With The Stars! They think it isn't restrictive enough! So what happened? You may remember that Adam Corolla was a contestant this season. My brother, who loathes Dancing With The Stars thought he was the best one but that had a lot to do with him making a "farce" out of it. The PTC agrees with my brother, well except for that "best one" part. They write of Corolla, "Actor/comedian Adam Corolla, who has distinguished himself in the competition by making sleazy remarks at every opportunity, commented that he had been made to look more like a porn star than Zorro." In speaking with Tom Bergeron, following what turned out to be his last performance on the show (or possibly in the "confessional" sequence on the results show – the PTC doesn't offer access to this clip or maybe someone at ABC was smart and made them take it down) Corrola (according to the PTC) "thanked the wardrobe department for "dressing me like a silent porn star" to which his partner Julianne responded 'Oh (bleeped sh*t!)'" There; that's it; all of it. Adam Corrola said he thought he looked like a "silent porn star" and sweet little (Mormon) Julianne Hough said "shit" which the ABC standards and practices people were able to keep from being broadcast with a well placed "bleep." And if was a live sequence on the show that was even more impressive of them Well except for the PTC's explanation of the reasons why this show was misrated (though they don't actually say what it should be): "Such content is highly inappropriate for a program airing during the Family Hour, and which is one of the few programs left on prime time that parents could watch with their children. ABC's failure to rate this program appropriately stands as yet more evidence that the TV ratings system needs to be standardized – and taken seriously by the networks. Saying "porn star" which, no matter what the PTC thinks, are not bad words, and having a teenager (Julianne is 19) supposedly saying a word that was bleeped by the censors. And after all, TV-PG means Parental Guidance. I think the PTC is reaching way too far on this one people.

Finally, because this week's "Worst Of The Week" is yet another diatribe about Family Guy, which is getting to be incredibly boring to me – the diatribes not the show (which I don't watch) – we turn to the most recent TV Trends which confronts the evils of the demon Mari-ju-wana (that pronunciation seems appropriate, but for the life of me I can't remember who said it that way). More accurately, what the PTC sees as the "glorifying" of marijuana use in the media. Of course they don't blame TV entirely – they blame Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle: "With the exception of the Cheech & Chong movie series, prior to the mid-1990s, "stoner films" glorifying the use of marijuana were rare; but popular culture since that time has seen an explosion of pot-themed movies. This trend shows no signs of abating; indeed, the new movie Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay is set for release on Friday, April 25th. This film, a sequel to the 2004 picture Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, will again enlist teen viewers' enthusiasm for the dope-smoking duo – an enthusiasm hyperbolically proclaimed on certain Internet sites." They actually go so far as to quote (severely edited of course) a comment posted on IMDB about the movie Harold & Kumar Escape from Gauntanamo Bay as proof (click the link to see the full quote, in context): "One Internet Movie Database commentator says that the movie's 'multicultural slackers' are 'American every-men that we can all relate to…incredible human characters who are struggling with real challenges around parents, romance, friendship, the law, and race.'" They then add their own commentary: "One wonders whether today's teens and young adults universally agree that two moronic potheads are the finest representatives of their generation; but regardless, this movie will join many others in displaying a casual attitude toward marijuana consumption, if not actually glorifying it." Setting aside for a moment the fact that nowhere in the original quote – or even the quote as edited by the PTC writer – does the commenter describe the characters as "the finest representatives of their generation," one can scarcely believe that "today's teens and young adults" would universally agree about anything. I mean there are still some who support George W. Bush!

But of course it is not the movies that the PTC objects to, it is TV. As they put it, "And where movies and other pop cultural phenomena tread, TV follows." The first example of rampant pot use they describe is That '70s Show about which they say, "That '70s Show, given its time-period setting and its obsession with the raciest and most counter-cultural elements of the era, made endless references to the use of marijuana." And of course that show is now widely syndicated. But That '70s Show isn't the target of the PTC's real anger – that would be Gossip Girl on The CW and My Name Is Earl on NBC. The PTC points out numerous – well one or two – examples of a casual attitude to marijuana use in the show: "However, the program has also multiple instances of teen drug use without any stigma attached to such behavior. On the September 19th episode, Chuck asks Nate if he wants to go get some "fresh air" and mimics smoking a marijuana joint. Blair pulls Nate away, causing him to tell Chuck he will smoke pot with him later. And in a later episode in the series, several teens are shown passing a joint around." They note a number of occasions where the show has specifically made reference and condemned the use of harder drugs by adults and states, "Such scenes demonstrate that drug use is a bad thing, and portrays teens as noble and virtuous for opposing the use of drugs by their parents," but later they note, "Gossip Girl rightly condemns parental use of drugs like cocaine, pointing out the tremendous harm drug use can cause – but then assumes that underage teens drinking and smoking marijuana is harmless and normal."

As for My Name Is Earl, they first stick in their normal bit of vendetta against the show for not being Touched By An Angel or Highway To Heaven – in other words for not focussing entirely on Earl doing good: "The latest example of the casual attitude towards marijuana use on television occurred on the April 17th episode of the formerly family-friendly but now louche NBC comedy My Name Is Earl. This program has gone to pot in more ways than one in recent seasons – but never more literally than in this episode..." Now setting aside the fact that I'm a "tell it to Sweeney" kind of guy who finds the use of the word "louche" to be pretentious beyond words, I find the PTC's "logic" in this strained beyond the bounds of sensibility. In the episode, which is a flashback, Earl's father burns a duffel bag full of marijuana that has been stashed in Earl's truck by a dealer (he thinks the truck is an abandoned wreck). Earl, Randy and their father have to try to replace the marijuana when the dealer comes looking for it. In the end, Earl's father feels happy about the experience because he's had the opportunity to protect his family. But here's what the PTC has to say about all of this: "But while throughout lip service is paid to the fact that marijuana is illegal, nevertheless it is shown to be a positive influence. At the end of the episode, Earl Sr. reveals that the dope-filled incident made him happy, because buying from the drug dealer gave him a chance to become a hero – with the result that, indirectly, marijuana was a beneficial presence in his life." Even the date on which the episode aired (and the second Harold & Kumar movie debuted) came under fire from the writer: "In addition to the many moments portraying marijuana use as comedic and not harmful, this episode offered an additional wink to the pro-marijuana crowd. Like the upcoming Harold & Kumar movie, the Earl episode was released as nearly as possible to the date April 20th – the number '420' being drug subculture code for marijuana use."

I'm not even going to dignify the My Name Is Earl stuff with a response since it is so patently absurd and moronic in its efforts to make connections. However something does need to be said about the other two shows mentioned. First of all, as someone who was in high school and university during the real 1970s (and didn't use marijuana, or even beer for that matter – on marijuana I'm on the side of "legalizing, regulating and taxing") I will still insist that any portrayal of teens in that period has to at least acknowledge the use of pot by teens. I knew guys who came to class stoned – although it should be said that when I was in high school here in Saskatoon booze was the drug of choice for my classmates who indulged. Pot was more common when I went to university. As for Gossip Girl, that is an even more obvious case of trying to depict a particular circumstance with at least a slight bit of reality. How can you present even a fictionalized version of modern high school life anywhere, let alone an upper class private school in New York, without depicting at least some of them using marijuana? The PTC statement says that the show "assumes that underage teens drinking and smoking marijuana is harmless and normal." I don't know about harmless, and I'm not even prepared to claim normal but what I will say is that it is more common than the PTC is willing to accept, and it isn't because TV or the movies have "glorified" it.

No comments: